This book argues that music is an integral part of society – one amongst various
interwoven forms of social interaction which comprise our social world; and
shows that it has multiple valences which embed it within that wider world.
Musical interactions are often also economic interactions, for example, and
sometimes political interactions. They can be forms of identity work and
contribute to the reproduction or bridging of social divisions. These valances
allow music both to shape and be shaped by the wider network of relations and
interactions making up our societies, in their local, national and global
manifestations. The book tracks and explores these valances, combining a
critical consideration of the existing literature with the development of an
original, ‘relational’ approach to music sociology. The book extends the project
begun in Crossley’s earlier work on punk and post-punk ‘music worlds’,
revisiting this concept and the network ideas underlying it whilst both
broadening the focus through a consideration of wider musical forms and by
putting flesh on the bones of the network idea by considering the many types of
interaction and relationships involved in music and the meanings which music has
for its participants. Patterns of connection between music’s participants are
important, whether they be performers, audience members or one of the various
‘support personnel’ who mediate between performers and audiences. However, so
are the different uses to which participants put their participation and the
meanings they co-create. These too must be foci for a relational music
This book argues that punk and post-punk, whatever their respective internal stylistic heterogeneity, enjoyed 'sociological reality' in Samuel Gilmore's and Howard Becker's sense. It elaborates the concept of 'music worlds', contrasting it with alternatives from the sociological literature. In particular it contrasts it with the concepts 'subculture', 'scene' and 'field'. The book then outlines a number of concepts which allow us to explore the localised process in which punk took shape in a sociologically rigorous manner. In particular it discusses the concepts of 'critical mass' and 'social networks'. The book also applies these concepts to the London punk world of 1976. It considers how talk about punk migrated from face-to-face networks to mass media networks and the effects of that shift. Continuing the discussion of punk's diffusion and growth, the book considers how punk worlds took shape in Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield. In addition, however, the book offers a more technical analysis of the network structures of the post-punk worlds of the three cities. Furthermore, extending this analysis, and combining qualitative and quantitative forms of analysis, the book considers how activities in different local post-punk worlds were themselves linked in a network, constituting a national post-punk world.
This chapter begins by asking what music is. It first considers the idea that
music is ‘humanly organised sound’ before progressing to a definition of
music as social interaction. This idea is unpacked throughout the chapter
and it is argued that musical interaction is embodied, multivalent and
This chapter argues that musical interaction is often also economic
interaction, involving interdependence and power. It elaborates upon these
ideas, discussing both the music industry and the interplay of music and
capitalism in doing so. It concludes with a discussion of the distinction
between mainstream and alternative music.
This chapter picks up on the idea of the mainstream, introduced in the
previous chapter, and also the concept of ‘music worlds’, briefly discussed
earlier in the book. It elaborates further upon both, developing a concept
of a musical universe comprising both a mainstream and multiple alternative
music worlds. The chapter concludes with an empirical demonstration of some
of these ideas.
This chapter picks up and further develops the idea of ‘networks’, which has
been introduced in earlier chapters. Drawing upon formal social network
analysis and the body of literature associated with it, it explains how we
might think about networks in relation to music, how and why they develop
and why they are important. There is an extended discussion of social
capital and its relevance to music.
This chapter argues that musical interactions orient around meaning, that the
meaningfulness of music is one key reason for its sociological importance,
and it offers a discussion of one facet of musical meaning: semiotic
meaning. Drawing upon the work of C.S. Peirce in particular, it is argued
that various aspects of music function as (meaningful) signs, and that music
has both internal and external meanings.
Continuing and further developing the theme of meaning from the previous
chapter, this chapter explores how music is used by listeners, particularly
in the context of their identity work, and how this affects their tastes. It
is argued that our stronger musical preferences are often for pieces,
artists or genres who have in some way become bound up with our identities
and the ongoing work of maintaining them.
This chapter continues the discussion of taste begun in the previous chapter,
considering how tastes are socially distributed. This issue is usually
discussed with reference to the work of Bourdieu in music sociology, but
this chapter suggests another, more fruitful, path based upon the importance
of mutual influence in social networks and Blau’s conception of social
space. Much of the chapter is devoted to a discussion of the ways in which
music both reflects and reproduces existing social divisions. However, it
concludes with a discussion of the ways in which music might bridge and help
to narrow social divisions.